Ginny and I saw Z at the Burns yesterday. Such a brilliant movie–fabulous acting, tremendous direction by Costas Gavras. The quiet, firm intensity of Jean Louis Trintignant as the honest judge is piercing (the way he demands “Nomme, pronomme, occupation” from the exalted commanders of the gendarmarie is to behold justice made flesh), and the others, especially Yves Montand, are completely credible. The scenes of the riots and protests are thrilling, and the end–the accounting–is devastating. And the music! Exhilarating! Was All the President’s Men a better political thriller? Hard to choose, hard to choose.
Someone at the venerable British automobile company Jaguar–someone no doubt not destined for a long career in sales or marketing–thought it shrewd to invite an unemployed editor to come up to the Monticello Motor Club in, appropriately, Monticello NY, to preview the 2010 high performance XFR and XKR. Their weakness, however, is not my problem, so Molly and I drove up their (in Grandpop’s reliable and comfy 2000 Buick Century) to see what they had in mind. Well, we had a splendid time. We received a lovely presentation about the superior performance of these cars. Each of then got to take a couple laps around the track in one of the cars (accompanied by a certified, honest-to-goodness race car driver, whose number included two-time Indianapolis 500 runner-up Roberto Guerrero (above left) and the 1996 winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Davy Jones (above right) . I was awfully cautious (that’s me, above, resembling Michael Dukakis), and probably didn’t top 80 mph on the straightaway–slower than I drive on the New Jersey Turnpike. My driver then took a lap, going mostly 110 mph all the way, making sharp turns and sliding all over. Drifting, I think the kids call it. Exciting! Almost nauseating! The funny thing is, you may not be moving any faster than you do on in normal traffic, but when you hear that monster engine roar, you feel like you’re moving much faster. Molly, still the same speed queen that she was when she was little, thought her trip around the track was “awesome” (that’s her at left, looking awesome and then some.) Then our hosts took us on a 20 minute car caravan around Sullivan County, with Molly behind the wheel of a luxury high-performance convertible. Seems like the perfect accessory for a young lady Molly’s age. Alas for her, the Jags start at around $55,000. Luckily, she likes her Toyota Yaris.
Ginny and I spent Sunday in Beacon at the Dia art gallery, looking at the gigantic installations of conceptual modern art. Neither of us much liked or understood what was going on with the piles of sand or stacks of carpets or big holes in the floor, although both of us, and Ginny especially, liked the Andy Warhol Shadows series of paintings (above left), and I liked how Fred Sandback changed space by essentially creating frames with tightly strung acrylic yarn (above right) . It’s funny to think that Warhol was creating these paintings at about the time Ginny and I and Ann Marie Donohue saw Warhol in person at an exhibit we were attending at the World Trade Center, where Ann Marie said “Look! Andy Wyeth!” God, what a clot of powerful memories! Later we went into town and had lunch at an upscale diner run by a Polish lady. Ginny was much taken with the cases and earrings in the glass blower’s shop, and I liked the big mural created in tribute to Pete Seeger‘s efforts on behalf of the Hudson River. Much more our speed. All in all, a nice afternoon.
Three cheers for my friend and former Esquire colleague Michael Gross for his new book Rogues’ Gallery, a smashing expose of all the secrets that reside behind the masterpieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among the fascinating swells Michael’s very entertaining expose brings back are General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, the first director of the Met, who was apparently a colorful rascal who had amazing taste, director Thomas Hoving, who brought a sense of show business to the world of fine art, and the collector and board memner Jane Reiss Mannheimer Engelhard, whose daughter Annette de la Renta, also a board member, has all but put a contract out on Michael. Too bad–the Met doesn’t have to pretend that it shits marble. I saw Michael at his a book party last night at Kieselstein-Cord, a posh boutique at 80th and Madison (at 80th and Madison, is there any other kind?), where what seems to have been the most attractive crowd in the history of book parties was on hand to cheer him and drink free Bellinis. Way to go, Michael!
Three cheers for my pal A.J. Baime, whose new book Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans is in bookstores now. A.J. does a great job telling the story of the rivalry in the sixties between Ferrari, the dominant racing power, and the upstart Ford Motor Company, who got the brainstorm that success on the high speed track of Le Mans would help sell Mustangs to the Baby Boomers who were coming of age. Like Lauren Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit, the story has appeal for those who are not racing fans; the book is full of larger-than-life characters and exciting action. In an excellent write-up today in the Times, Chip McGrath says that Go Like Hell “evokes a world that now seems vanished and fantastical.” Way to go, Big City Al!
Here’s today’s innovative idea, from Newsweek: Hire a comedian to edit the magazine, which happens to be a Tina Brown brainstorm from 1995 (she hired Roseanne Barr to edit The New Yorker), and sell the concept with Spy magazine cover concept, fresh from 1989. (By the way, that’s the head of Scott Yates doubling for George H.W. Bush‘s cabbage.)
I had a lot of fun yesterday at the annual Marymount Manhattan Writers’ Conference. First, I participated in a panel on Humor Writing hosted by my friend and benefactor Lewis Burke Frumkes, on which I was honored (a much-abused word, but in this case, totally appropriate) to join my friend Ben Cheever; Tony Hendra, whom I found so funny when he appeared with Nick Ullet on The Merv Griffith Show in 1964; the maestro Bruce Jay Friedman; and the endlessly Shopping Correspondent of The New Yorker, Patty Marx. I am pleased to say that we played to a packed house. Among the best comments: “Nobody laughed at my funny stuff,” said Ben, “but I found that when I wrote sad stuff, people laughed, and if you wrote really sad stuff, they would chortle aloud.” Said Hendra, “You can make more money in lawn maintenance than you can writing humor.” Said Bruce: “I love editors who say, `Could you make it a little funnier?’ They are paid a lot to say that to you. That’s where the real money is.” Said Patty, “I’m not sure it’s possible to teach people to write comedy, but I have found that it’s possible to get paid to teach people to write comedy.” Afterwards, we all went to a big lunch where we listened to the keynote speakers Joseph O’Neill, the author fo the splendid Netherland, which I just read, and Christopher Reich, the author of such thrillers as Rules of Deception and The Patriot’s Club. O’Neill was often funny, particularly when he said “Publication is the punishment you receive for writing a book.” I was disappointed when he told me afterwards that President Obama‘s mention that he was reading Netherland has not made much difference in sales. Reich was pretty amusing in recounting his adventures in publishing thrillers, particularly when he told of meeting Gen. Tommy Franks, “ a man’s man who not only chews tobacco, but chews, smokes and drinks Diet Coke all at the same time.” Reich said that during the three days he met with Franks to talk about a TV series Reich was developing, Franks’ adjutant kept staring at Reich. “We knew a writer once,” explained Franks. “His name was Seymour Hersh. We’re trying to figure out whether you’re one of the good guys or one of the bad guys. We’ve determined you’re one of the good guys. Let’s go have a drink.” I was flattered when Reich told me he was a fan of mine from Spy days. I closed out the day by going over to the W Hotel in Times Square to have a drink with Jim Noonan, my old pal of nearly three decades’ standing, who was in from the coast. It was great to see him.
One of very favorite sites from an ever-rapidly disappearing Times Square: The old I. Miller Shoe Company on the northeast corner of West 46th Street and Times Square, a great shoe-supplier to the stage during the theatrical heyday of the 1920s, when close to a hundred theaters operated in the Times Square theater district. On the second floor of the building, Miller’s proprietors erected statues to his four favorite female performers: Ethel Barrymore as Ophelia, Marilyn Miller as Sunny, Mary Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy, and Rosa Ponselle as Norma. The statues are poised below an engraving of the store’s motto: ”The Show Folks Shoe Shop Dedicated to Beauty in Footwear.”